Israel's Peres bids farewell to his American partners, eyes new peace tack at 90

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JERUSALEM -- Israeli President Shimon Peres likes to remind people that he is old. He is 90 and has worked with 10 U.S. presidents. He says he has also worked -- for four decades -- for a peace deal with the Palestinians. He has not succeeded.

His government service spans the entire history of the state of Israel, which is a spring chicken in comparison, at 66. Mr. Peres says that when he leaves office after his seven-year term ends this month, he is going into global high-tech, and that he is finished with governments.

"I am leaving the office, but I am not leaving the battle for peace," Mr. Peres said in a wide-ranging interview Monday at his official residence.

He sees his future role as a matchmaker for corporate interests that want to do something good in the Middle East (and something good for Israel) -- like a Bill Gates with diplomatic cachet, if not the billions. He says he doesn't care about money. Israel has a decent retirement package.

"We can combine the Israeli companies with other global companies. Companies go without nationality; you don't have to raise your national flag," he said. "Governments are suspicious; companies are not." He is thinking health care, education, agriculture, Internet.

As part of his long goodbye, Mr. Peres met Wednesday with President Barack Obama in the White House and will receive a Congressional Gold Medal today in the Capitol rotunda. On his 90th birthday, he was serenaded by singer Barbra Streisand and toasted by former President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Peres arrived in Israel as an immigrant, from a part of Poland that is now Belarus, when Israel was governed by the British Mandate for Palestine. His father was a lumber merchant, his mother a librarian.

Mr. Peres said the United States and Israel remain close allies, with similar goals and common cause. He agreed that the relationship has been strained. "I don't think, even if there are arguments between us, that there is division on basic things like security," he said. "But there are tactical differences."

Israel's defense minister a few months ago called Secretary of State John Kerry "delusional" and "messianic" in his quest to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians. The Obama administration's peace effort collapsed in April, with bitter recriminations between the parties. U.S. diplomats said both sides were to blame for the failure. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "shut down," said special envoy Martin Indyk, and Israelis undermined efforts by going back on their promise to release a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners and by announcing new West Bank settlement construction.

But Mr. Peres heaped praise on Mr. Abbas. "When you look for a candidate who can be your partner, he is your man," Mr. Peres said of Mr. Abbas, who is 79 and beginning to wind down his own public career. "We are old, and we are friends," Mr. Peres said, when asked if the two were close.

Mr. Abbas has shown true courage, Mr. Peres said. Even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disagrees.

Last week, the Palestinian leader told a group of Arab leaders at a meeting in Saudi Arabia that the recent abduction of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank was wrong. Mr. Netanyahu blames the Islamic militant group Hamas for the kidnapping.

Mr. Peres said in advance of his Wednesday meeting that he planned to ask Mr. Obama to release Israel's spy, Jonathan Pollard, an American civilian intelligence analyst sentenced to life in prison for passing secrets to the Israelis. Pollard has served long enough, Mr. Peres said.

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